The Medical Board of California has faulted a doctor in the 2010 death of a Lap-Band patient who had surgery at a clinic affiliated with the 1-800-GET-THIN ad campaign, filing charges that could cause him to lose his license to practice.
The board has accused Dr. Daniel Shin, an anesthesiologist, of “gross negligence” in his care of patient Tamara Walter, who died Dec. 26, 2010, at age 52, three days after she had a Lap-Band implanted at a clinic in Beverly Hills.
The medical board said Shin failed to adequately respond to Walter’s worsening condition after surgery and left her with a nurse for more than an hour, despite signs that she was struggling. Shin was on probation with the medical board at the time of the weight-loss surgery because of a 2007 criminal conviction for using a meat cleaver to assault someone attempting to serve him legal documents at his home in Torrance, according to medical board records.
Shin could not be reached. The address he lists with the medical board is for a postal box rental business in Marina del Rey. He did not respond to a request for comment mailed to that address.
The accusation requests that Shin be punished by suspension or revocation of his license. If Shin and the board cannot agree on appropriate discipline, the matter may end up before an administrative law judge, who would consider evidence and recommend an appropriate resolution.
Word of Shin’s potential discipline comes one day after Lap-Band maker Allergan Inc. said it would no longer sell the device to surgery centers affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, a marketing firm that has plastered ads for Lap-Band surgeries along Southern California freeways and on television, radio and the Internet.
1-800-GET-THIN is facing a state Department of Insurance investigation for possible insurance fraud by the surgery centers. In December, the Food and Drug Administration accused the marketing company of misleading advertising for failing to provide adequate warnings about the risks of the surgery.
The Wilshire Boulevard facility at which Walter was treated, now called New Life Surgery Center, said in a statement Friday that Shin no longer practices at the center or its affiliates.
“First and foremost, we want to express our deepest condolences to Ms. Walter’s family,” the statement said. “With regard to Dr. Shin, he is no longer practicing at any of our surgery centers, as has been the case since the incident in question.”
Walter, a grocery store assistant manager who lived in Lawndale, is one of at least five patients to die since 2009 following Lap-Band surgeries at clinics affiliated with 1-800-GET-THIN, according to lawsuits, autopsy reports and other public records.
According to the medical board’s accusation, Walter began to show signs of distress shortly after the surgery. She was unable to maintain adequate oxygen in her blood, so Shin transferred her back to the operating room and reinserted a “mask airway” to help her breathe, the accusation said.
Walter continued to struggle to get enough oxygen, the accusation said. Medical staff suctioned pink frothy fluid out of Walter’s breathing tube and administered medication to help her breathe, according to the accusation. Less than three hours after surgery, Shin left Walter in the care of a nurse with training in anesthesiology, the report said.
The nurse later called Shin by telephone to say Walter was still struggling and might have a collapsed lung, the accusation said.
Shin returned to the surgery center 85 minutes after leaving, according to the accusation. But within 20 minutes, Walter stopped breathing. Paramedics took Walter to a nearby hospital, where she later died.
The medical board faulted Shin for failing to transfer Walter to a hospital much sooner than he did and for leaving her in the care of a nurse, despite signs of her deteriorating condition.
The medical board accusation does not refer to Walter by name, instead listing her as “T.W.” But the date and details listed in the accusation leave no doubt that it refers to Walter, said Kathryn Trepinski, an attorney who represents Walter’s family in a lawsuit against Shin, 1-800-GET-THIN and the surgery centers.
“The details contained in this accusation are extremely disturbing, chilling even. They chronicle the dying moments of Tamara Walter as she struggled to breathe,” Trepinski said.
“This is a series of medical catastrophes. Ms. Walter was struggling to breathe … and 911 was not called. She began foaming at the mouth and still 911 was not called. But most troubling is from 4 p.m. to 5:25 p.m. her physicians abandoned her. Her anesthesiologist, Dr. Shin, left her in the care of a nurse.”
The accusation also faults Shin for his treatment of two other patients, including a woman identified as “A.E.” who died Oct. 29, 2009, after Shin gave her an epidural during childbirth at Hemet Valley Medical Center in Hemet.
Trepinski said she hopes the medical board revokes Shin’s license to practice.